An author and scholar friend tells me he wrote his first “big” novel during nap times as a stay-at-home father. I’m floored.
Nap times are a brain fuzz of list making, list tackling, and less than writerly thoughts. I can’t imagine composing during a nap or feeling enabled to seep myself into the process.
I told another academic and writerly friend about the nap-time-author and she said, “That’s because he wasn’t the mother.” It was a short, quickly delivered response. The tone was clear and biting. I noticed that she didn’t say, “That’s because he’s the father,” but she specified the negation of what he “wasn’t,” as if that specification needed to be drawn out. It is, more specifically, “the” mother—as a kind of label or role that all mothers would follow.
I asked her about her process during early/beginning/learning the ropes mommy-hood and she explains, “Nothing teaches you better time management.” She explained that prioritizing improved, knowing what time actually meant became clearer, and nothing was “wasted” time.
I agree. I am fast. I am so fast these days that I cannot keep up with myself, and nobody else can either. My mind chatters a list and I have everything prepared and at the ready. I can do dishes in seconds. I can clean a whole house in minutes. I can get my ideas out and try to tell you what yours is before you’ve even had time to register. I am too fast. I am not always listening because minutes and days are moving under my feet.
The speed of it all makes me feel akin to Bob Brown’s reading machines or some other Surrealist’s/Dadaist’s depiction of a face replaced by automatic and mechanical parts.
This dual conversation with the two writers/scholars happened around the time the doctor tries to lure me into the idea of EASY (eat, activity, sleep, you time). This still makes me laugh. The idealization of packing parenting into an acronym, already ridiculous, but to the specific word “easy.” C’mon.
I haven’t found anything easy and I haven’t found “you” time. I have, however, thought pretty endlessly about the gender discrepancies tied to parenting. Have we, in our most progressive communities, still let the roles “mother” and “father” remain different? Are we attending to that difference? What does it mean that my mother-identifying colleague critiques my father-identifying acquaintance with so much difference regarding labor and expectations?
Another friend and mentor from high school reminds me about Betty Friedan, the efforts to fit many labels and the myth of domestic bliss. I return to Friedan:
Gradually, without seeing it clearly for quite a while, I came to realize that something is very wrong with the way American women are trying to live their lives today, I sensed it first as a question mark in my own life, as a wife and mother of three small children, half-guiltily, and therefore half-heartedly, almost in spite of myself, using my abilities and education in work that took me away from home.
But the stay-at-home-father didn’t have to go “away from home”—unless away from is not literal here. At home, I am pulled to make things orderly and clean, I am pulled to play with the baby even when he is content with himself. Would the role of father feel that same pull? The pull is not a joy from folding the laundry, but a sense of obligation or, as Friedan identifies, guilt.
I do have to, quite literally, go away. I have to leave the house. To research, to write, to prepare for teaching, I have to be away. And I can’t help but wonder about this connection to the house and “mother,” the one who has to literally leave to assume her other roles, and the house and “father.”
I wonder nothing clear. The baby naps and my glass of water feels more important than the piles of research I’d like to attend to.